Big Life Change

PUBLISHED: 16:41 15 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:16 20 February 2013

Michelle Curzon

Michelle Curzon

Have you made a New Year's resolution to finally get out of a rut or has life taken an unexpected turn? Sometimes life throws up challenges like illness or redundancy.

Big Life Change

Have you made a New Years resolution to finally get out of a rut or has life taken an unexpected turn? Sometimes life throws up challenges like illness or redundancy. Sometimes you just have to make a change for the better. Rachel Crow talks to seven people who have made a
Big Life Change.

Getting out of the rat race

Kate Harrison, 42, left her high-pressure corporate job to achieve a better work-life balance in the Warwickshire countryside.

I worked in the corporate arena for the last 20 years, my last job as business development manager for a communications company. The job was well paid with great benefits, but I seemed to have no life. I was away in the week and when I was at home, I was working most evenings. I even managed to have no love life whatsoever.
I hadnt been happy for a couple of years but just didnt have time to stop and think about it. I moved to Alderminster about five years ago but didnt really know the area because I hadnt had the chance to explore. I decided in the New Year that I wanted to leave my job, I just couldnt bear it any more. It was a difficult decision to resign from a secure job. You have to pluck up the courage to go into the unknown and take that leap. It took until May to negotiate myself out of the company.
I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I was offered a couple of jobs but I thought I dont want to jump into another equally pressurised job. I took some time off and started to make my house finally feel like home as Id been using it like a hotel for five years. I went to auctions and antique shops and found great quality furniture, once loved but now out of date that just needed updating. I discovered this creative part of myself and spent time painting the pieces and re-covering them with lovely fabric and found great enjoyment in the process. Thats when I decided to set up, selling renovated furniture.
I also love jewellery and people often admire the pieces I buy from my travels overseas so Ive started to sell jewellery through girls night-in home parties. This works really well.
To top it all, I have recently met a guy whom I am crazy about! Since I left my job Ive been spending more time with my friends and have been more relaxed and so I think I had my eyes open to meeting someone; its amazing how things have changed.
The best bit about the change is the fact I now have a life and time to enjoy myself; Im much more content and dont have to deal with the frustrations or politics or egos of the corporate world. I think life goes so fast that more people need to stop and think about what theyre doing and think and enjoy it more.

Starting an artisan business
For advice on turning a hobby into a business visit: or
Collaborating with other designers for exhibitions is a good way of getting your work on show to the public. Check out the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists ( and the Worcestershire Guild of Designer Craftsmen ( Theres a list of national craft guilds at

Find a partner for life
Kathy, a retired financial IT consultant and Andrew Nash, owner of a caf and catering business, met through Warwickshire-based introduction agency Searchmate and got married last September. Kathy explains how they met.

Both Andrew and I have been married before a long time ago; my marriage ended in 1987 and Andrews in 1996. I have a daughter, Catherine who lives in Vermont and Andrew has two daughters, Sally and Elizabeth.
I wanted to meet someone because I didnt want to be on my own forever. We are both very gregarious people and met people all the time in our jobs. But then you go home and youre on your own and have no one to talk to about your day and share your life with. I thought: I want more than this.
I was looking for an introduction agency because its hard meeting someone at the age I was, Im now 63 and Andrew is 62. I found Searchmate on the internet and it was a local business so I thought Ill give it a go. This was in October 2008. Jaci Barton, one of the directors came to see me to do the interview and take my photos and I liked her immediately.
I met two other men through Searchmate before I met Andrew in May 2009. With Andrew we hit it off more or less immediately and got on like a house on fire. I think we knew on that first date that this was something special. There was a frisson between us and from that day we were hardly apart. I live in Knowle and Andrew lives 88 miles away in Gloucestershire, so we became friends of the M5 very quickly.
Andrew popped the question on New Years Eve 2009 and we got married in September at St Giles Church in Packwood, near Lapworth.
Meeting Andrew has made a huge difference to my life. All of our family and friends have been very supportive and our lives have blossomed beyond belief in all sorts of ways. Weve travelled lots and Ive just written a childrens book called Uncle Holly Saves Christmas illustrated by Andrews daughter, Sally, which will be published by Authorhouse. Once Andrew has sold his business we want to move to somewhere by the coast and take up sailing.

Make a date
Kathy says: If you want to change your life you have to take positive action and find a way of doing it, because no one else is going to do it for you. Even if you go on a date and it doesnt work out, at least youve had a pleasant afternoon and its nice to meet people. If you keep going on lots of dates and it doesnt work out it can get disheartening but my advice is to keep going because there are some really nice men and women out there. Andrew and I are lucky to have found each other.
To contact Searchmate, tel: 0800 0431971;

Stay-at-home Mum to comedy writer
Ginny Davis, a judges wife and former barrister, was a full-time mother for many years before discovering her talent for sketch writing. She is currently touring with her third one-woman comic theatre show Double Booked.

I started working life as a translator and interpreter, so there is a thread of the use of language and communication that goes through my career path. I retrained as a barrister but didnt do that for very long because I got married and had a family and decided to stay at home and look after them.
I was a full-time mum for 16 years looking after my two children until I started going out on the road with my plays in 2008.
I have written three one-woman shows based on contemporary family life and Im working on the fourth. They all focus on the fictitious Rich family: mother, father and three children.
I was logging subconsciously all of the material for these shows for years. They are based on my observations of being a parent with children at competitive schools, of how people behave and get away with behaving quite badly at times. All the interaction between families I found really interesting because I was thrown into this world of parenting and being a playground mum (Warwick Prep and Warwick School) and stay-at-home mum. I was chairman of the PTA and wrote some satirical sketches about being a parent for the school entertainment. For instance, the second-hand uniform shop I thought was hilarious because parents started judging others on the quality of their washing and ironing. The scope for giving offence is really huge in that context so you just blow it up and make it funny.
I wrote the initial sketches, which were entirely parent cast, for parent audiences and got in touch with other local schools including the Girls Grammar in Stratford-upon-Avon and King Edward VI School and they really liked them.
In 2008 I decided to take my one-woman play to the Edinburgh Fringe. It was a huge adventure because I didnt have a clue what it would be like, but I was lucky because it was brilliant and sold well. After that I found out about the Live & Local arts organisation, which enables professional theatre to tour to rural venues with the aid of a subsidy. Through that I have toured rural venues around Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Its really rewarding but Id like to do runs in established theatres too. Ultimately, my ambition is to entertain.

Read Ginnys new monthly column for Warwickshire Life on page 61. For more information on Live & Local visit

How to be a playwright

Ginny says: When I wrote the very first sketch I thought that was all I was doing. Then I put on another because it went down really well. But getting there is slow. These rags to riches stories are the exception. Its hard work and the performing is the icing on the cake. Its like having a party; its all the preparation that decides if its going to be a good party.

Theres no substitute for just getting down to it but if you want a few tips try reading So You Want To Be a Playwright? by Tim Fountain (Nick Hern Books, 9 99).

Be your own boss
When disaster loomed at the Rover plant at Longbridge Neil Fennell, 44,
decided to take charge of his destiny and went into gentlemens tailoring.

I was employed at Longbridge Rover for 13 years, working my way up from the shop floor to become an engineer. There were a lot of redundancies being made in that industry about five or so years ago, so I was looking for opportunities to start my own business.
I looked into taking on a franchise of a company that were about to start making suits. This really appealed to me. My dad was always perfectly turned out with polished shoes and the whitest shirt and I saw him as a role model and always took pride in how I dressed. The franchise didnt work out but I walked away from it thinking: Im going to do this because I know theres an opportunity out there.
I scoured the country trying to find tailors and someone who would manufacture suits for me and guide me through training but struggled to find anyone. Then I went on a Business Enterprise course and made some really good contacts. Through that I met the head of the tailoring division of a large suit manufacturer in Yorkshire. He invited me up there and was impressed that I was so motivated and passionate about what I wanted to do, so he organised my training to learn about the different fabrics and how to take measurements.
Three years ago I started a visiting tailor service, offering made-to-measure suits. Business was very slow at first and not a lot of money was coming in so I wanted to use people in the media that I could associate my product with and help to market me. I emailed a lot of people and there were plenty of rejections but I got the odd yes, such as the English rugby player Andy Gomarsall.
Then I made a suit for TV and radio presenter Dave Berry, who is known for wearing his Savile Row suits. I flew down to London and had to fit him in 30 minutes because he was in such a rush. I thought it was going to be a disaster, but six weeks later the suit arrived and it fitted perfectly. He was really impressed. We got on well and one day he said: What do you think about me becoming a partner in your business? and thats how October House was formed in February last year.
Straight away the change in the business was noticeable. I started doing suits for the likes of Zai Bennett, controller of ITV2, 3 and 4 and Gordon Smart, the celebrity gossip editor for The Sun. Its a different world I am revolving in at the moment and I am quite humbled by it. Weve just employed a tailor in London and are opening a store there. I live in Stratford-upon-Avon and will start promoting what were doing back here in Warwickshire more. There are lots of exciting things ahead.

Start your own business
Neil says: I think to start your own business you have to have confidence in yourself and believe in what youre doing. I love the fact you are in control of your own destiny. You are making the calls and involved at every stage, rather than being a tiny clog in a massive machine. Im also meeting a lot of interesting people. The nicest thing is putting a suit on a guy and he stands there like a peacock, looking great and feeling great and Ive done my job.

For courses on starting a new business contact Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce:

When a relationship breaks down
When she needed a new direction Jane Hopkins, 36, set up a virtual networking site for like-minded mums to find useful business advice and ideas.

Before I set up Mumsclub I was living in Spain with my partner, selling property and living overlooking a championship golf course, which was a million miles away from where I am now. We split up in 2004 when I was pregnant and I moved back to the UK. My little boy, Ben, was born in 2005, so it was a huge life change.
I didnt have a clue what job I could get over here but needed something I could do from home around my little boy. Everything I knew about, which was selling property and sales and marketing, didnt seem to apply anymore. I looked on the internet and at different forums and realised there were a lot of mums working from home, from party supplies to quite big businesses. I wanted to find out more about them but felt a bit out of my depth because they were all high-flying businesswomen and I didnt feel like that.
I retrained in web design and set up my own website to find other mums and for them to find me and its grown from there. Really I was looking for inspiration from these other mums but before I knew it I was getting income streams through advertising on the website. I had no idea it would become what it has.
Its a free membership base where mums can join and get access to lots of information, and there is also a premium option for 5 a month where they have access to other mums visiting the site for marketing opportunities. We have almost 2,000 members. I also launched the Business Mums Journal, which members send out with their orders. This promotes businesses aimed at mums but also provides inspiration for other women thinking about starting a business. I now have seven regional editors and 25 networking groups all around the country.
I really enjoy finding out what other mums are doing. We have such a wide spectrum, which unite and do business together and I love seeing the support they give each other. I think thats a woman thing.
Building the business has helped my confidence. I used to recoil at the thought of public speaking but last year I was presenting awards and I also host networking events. You suddenly realise I can do this and I am doing alright at it as well.
It is really hard juggling work with being a single mum and although I am always talking about getting a work/life balance I dont really think Ive achieved it myself half of the time. But I am a lot happier now than Ive ever been. Ive got self-esteem and self-confidence. Everything is my decision, whether its the right one or the wrong one, and I just feel in control.

How to change career
Jane says: For anyone thinking of changing career Id advise you to look at what youre good at and interested in because if youre not interested in it you will never do a good job at it. Researching your business idea is the key and dont just ask friends and family what they think because they tend to tell you what you want to hear. Go to Businesslink and forums like Mumsclub and ask opinions: Will this work? Is there a market for this? Is the pricing ok? Just ask where you can.

A new life in France
After a lifetime in the motor industry, Peter Drumm, 65, moved from Warwickshire to France in search of calm and climate.

I moved to France in February 2005 but my plans went way back to the mid-seventies. As a very keen motorcyclist, some friends and I would go to France every year for our holidays. It is the most wonderful country; no matter where you go the people are friendly and the villages, towns and cities are always decorated with flowers and so clean. I said to myself then that if, or when, I retire this is where I want to be as I had fallen in love with the country.
I worked most of my life in the motor industry, 18 years at the Standard Triumph in Coventry then for LDV Group for nearly 25 years
on vehicle inspection. I had to take early retirement in 2001 because
of ill health, chronic asthma, and this was when I started to plan my
move to France. I needed to avoid the cold, damp atmosphere that is rife in the UK.
I did a lot of research on the different regions of France and settled on the Deux Sevres. Its a mainly agricultural area and also has a healthier climate, the winter here is very short and the temperature rarely drops below zero. I began looking for property but it wasnt until November 2004, when I was passing through this pretty town of LAbsie that I found the perfect house.
Getting to grips with the French system was quite difficult; the bureaucracy is much worse than the UK with the requirements for registration and insurance. My French was, I must admit, very poor but the first thing I did was to invest in things like a speaking dictionary, this way you can get the correct pronunciation. The main thing is to try and you will be appreciated for doing so.
My new life is wonderful. I have found it very relaxing as the pace of life in France is generally a lot slower than in the UK. Everyone is so friendly, the French are only too willing to help if you ask. The health service here is also second to none.
A lot of people who had moved to France did it on a whim, with no forward planning at all and since the recession have been forced to go back. Planning such a move as this has to be the main criteria.

How to Move to France
The France Show at Earls Court, London (14-16th January) is a great place to start. The show gathers together a huge range of experts to offer all the advice you need to make the move. As well as thousands of dream French homes in the French Property Exhibition, youll find travel advice, meet tourist officers from the different regions and immerse yourself in French culture with language classes, wine tastings, cookery demonstrations and the largest French market outside of France. Tel: 0844 8718817 for tickets or visit

Archant Life (publisher of Worcestershire Life) also publishes a range of magazines dedicated to life in France. Living France, French Property News and France magazine and their associated websites are essential reading for Francophiles (visit and click on Portfolio to find out more).

Lose weight and get a life
Mother of two Michelle Curzon, 49, lost over four stone in weight with the help of LighterLife.

For years I had steadily been putting weight on after having children. I always tried to start a diet on Monday and by Tuesday it had finished. My weight affected my confidence. I just always wanted to be slimmer because most of my friends are and I knew I could be happier if I could lose some weight. I am five foot two inches and was up to thirteen stone one pound and a size 16. I always wore things
that werent too tight and dressed to hide my weight. I was not that big
but according to my BMI I was clinically obese.
I had never joined a dieting group before but the idea for going to LighterLife came after Id seen Laurence Llewelyn Bowens wife, Jackie, on GMTV; she had lost a lot of weight through the diet. A few months later I found a group in Leamington Spa near to where I work in Wellesbourne. The thing that appealed to me about this diet was that it would hopefully happen fairly quickly. It was quite rapid and drastic but I just wanted to lose the weight,
and quickly.
I started it in January 2010. It is an abstinence diet where you dont have any normal food and just have four meal replacement packs as day. I was very focused on getting to the end of it and I didnt want to cheat. I followed the diet for 26 weeks in total, including 14 weeks where I gradually introduced normal food back into
my diet, and got down to eight stone six pounds.
Following the diet was hard and there were times I was very hungry but I think I found it easier because it was so restrictive and did take normal food out of the equation. I was also fortunate that both of my girls were away at university and my husband is often away for work, so many evenings I only had to come home and prepare food for myself. Its harder if you have a family to cook for.
I had slightly high blood pressure before I lost weight, which I did
worry about a bit, but it is normal now. I feel so much better in myself too because it has given me more confidence and I can wear nicer clothes. Before I felt I couldnt buy the clothes that looked nice on other people as I had to wear things to hide my weight. Now I can even borrow clothes off my daughters!

How to lose weight
LighterLife is a weight-loss and weight-management programme for men and women. For more details visit or call 01926 314150.

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